Europe’s migrant crisis is a humanitarian crisis to which no humanitarian resolution seems possible.
I hear mutters of demurral from my liberal friends. No problem of man’s making can be defined as intractable, they say, and no doubt they are right, but only if all other ancillary and practical considerations are removed.
These are largely political, of course. Keeping the migrants out, even if feasible, would I suspect be a policy commanding great public support, but would engage too many governments in too many logistical and ethical issues to be realistically contemplated. Letting them in, on the other hand, while it would appeal to those citizens with a heightened social conscience, would end the career of any elected politician advocating it. The politicians might be morally wrong to do so, but since when has politics been about being right or wrong?
Would the socially concerned citizens personally be willing to house and feed a migrant as an act of expiation? Are they prepared to pay for others to do so?
The tide of immigrants from the northern shores of Africa is arguably the fault of European (and American) governments, but assigning blame in such simplistic terms is unhelpful in the extreme. The western powers cannot be entirely absolved from blame – as any review of the history of imperialism would attest – but they did not contribute wilfully or even tangentially to the civil war in Syria, or to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or to the famines in Somalia and Ethiopia, or to the persecutions in the Sudan.
Anyway, apportioning historical blame – like lambasting Mr. Sykes and M. Picot – hardly takes us to a solution to the present crisis.
Still, Europe must do something, a conscience-stricken chorus demands. But what, exactly?
Work to narrow the gap between rich nations and poor, obviously. But how, exactly?
The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have had enough trouble saving Greece, and may before long have to do the same for Spain, Portugal and Italy. Undertaking metaphorically to ride out, banners fluttering, armour glistening – moneybags jangling – to the rescue of the war-torn, tribally-divided countries of the middle-east and northern Africa merely satisfies a romantic desire for action. Anyway, we have tried that before – many times before – and almost invariably with terrible consequences.
Meanwhile, on call-in radio stations, on television and in the press the argument rages on regardless. Participants in the debates are informed (and otherwise), expert and reactive. All on both sides are heartfelt in their concerns. What has palpably failed to emerge from them, though, is anything resembling a plan of action, or even a consensus.
I have yet to hear a cogent argument in favour of a policy that will end the crisis. You will not, I have to confess, hear one from me.
In Britain, we can’t even retain the loyalty of the Scots or half the population of Ulster.
Press me hard and I’ll plump, reluctantly and somewhat shamefacedly, for keeping the migrants out of Britain. We can take in some, and should, but the more concessions we make, the more expansive – and expensive – they will become. To absorb the present wave is merely to invite another. (No, a ‘wave is not a ‘swarm’).
Hardly an enlightened opinion, I admit, but does anyone have anything better to suggest?